Managing Panic Attacks and Panic Disorders with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Panic disorder, characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, can be a profoundly unsettling experience, often accompanied by intense physical and emotional symptoms. Understanding panic disorder and learning effective strategies to manage it can significantly improve one’s quality of life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) plays a pivotal role in this journey.

What are Panic Attacks?

A panic attack is an intense wave of fear characterized by its suddenness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. It is an intense, sudden onset of fear or discomfort that peaks within minutes. Imagine a person, say, walking down a quiet street when suddenly they are hit by a wave of intense fear. These symptoms are not triggered by a specific threat in their environment and can seem to come out of nowhere.

For many, panic attacks are isolated incidents. They may experience one or a few attacks in their lifetime, often during periods of high stress or significant life changes. While terrifying, these attacks don’t typically lead to persistent fear or significant behavior changes.

Panic attacks often include distressing physical symptoms, such as:

  • Increased heart rate or palpitations.
  • Shortness of breath or sensations of suffocation.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress.
  • Feelings of unreality or detachment from oneself.

What is a Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder, on the other hand, is characterized by the recurrent experience of panic attacks and the constant fear of their return. For someone with panic disorder, the impact on their daily life is more profound. They might start to avoid places or situations where previous attacks occurred. This avoidance can disrupt their work, social engagements, and overall quality of life.

For example, a person with panic disorder might avoid crowded places like shopping malls or public transportation due to fear of having a panic attack in these settings. This constant apprehension and behavior alteration is a key differentiator from isolated panic attacks.


Characteristics of Panic Disorder

  • Recurrent Panic Attacks — Unlike isolated incidents of panic attacks, individuals with panic disorder experience frequent and unpredictable attacks. These are often not triggered by specific situations and can occur ‘out of the blue.’
  • Persistent Worry — There is ongoing worry about the possibility of having more panic attacks. This concern can be debilitating and occupy a significant portion of the individual’s thoughts.
  • Behavioral Changes — People with panic disorder often engage in significant behavioral changes to avoid potential triggers of panic attacks. This might include avoiding certain places, situations, or activities that they associate with panic attacks.
  • Physical Symptoms During Attacks — The physical symptoms during a panic attack can include heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling or shaking, sweating, nausea, and feelings of detachment from reality.

How Does a Panic Disorder Impact Daily Life?

Living with panic attacks and panic disorder can be a relentless, exhausting experience. It affects individuals in various ways:

  • Avoidance of certain places or situations, potentially leading to limitations in personal and professional life.
  • Strain in relationships due to the misunderstanding of the condition and its implications.
  • An increased risk of developing other mental health conditions like depression or other anxiety disorders due to the chronic stress and life limitations it causes.

Managing panic attacks with cbt


CBT Treatment Approaches

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective treatments for panic disorder. CBT focuses on identifying and modifying the thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to the panic attacks. Specific strategies include:

  • Cognitive Restructuring: This involves challenging and changing the fearful thoughts that contribute to panic attacks.
  • Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to the feared situations or sensations in a controlled environment helps reduce the fear response.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation are used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety.

A Simple CBT Exercise for Relief

Grounding Technique

  1. Find a Comfortable Space: Sit or stand where you feel safe.
  2. Engage Your Senses: Focus on:
    • 5 things you can see.
    • 4 things you can touch.
    • 3 things you can hear.
    • 2 things you can smell.
    • 1 thing you can taste.
  3. Deep Breathing: Practice controlled breathing to help stabilize your heart rate and relax your body.
  4. Reflect: Notice any changes in your feelings or symptoms.

This exercise can help anchor you in the present moment, reducing the intensity of panic symptoms.


Seeking Help

If panic attacks or panic disorder are impacting your life, seeking professional help can be transformative. CBT offers practical, effective tools and strategies for managing and overcoming these challenges. Together, we can work towards understanding your fears, developing coping strategies, and reclaiming a sense of normalcy and peace in your life. Remember, reaching out for help is a courageous first step towards healing and empowerment. Reach out today for a free consult.

About the Author

Port Jefferson Therapist Near Me

Dr. Vanessa Gomes, PhD

As a CBT therapist in Port Jefferson, NY, I help you rediscover your joy & thrive with practical tools for lasting change.

My approach blends the precision of science with the warmth of human connection. I know that opening up and seeking help can be daunting, but I’m here to provide a non-judgmental and safe space where your story can be heard and understood.

When you are no longer weighed down by self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and trauma, you radiate confidence and self-assuredness. This is the life you deserve, and it’s within your reach.

I am currently accepting new in-person clients in Port Jefferson, NY, and online across Long Island and New York State.

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